Hapoel Beersheba ’s Nigerian forward Anthony Nwakaeme (right) has so far carried the team in Champions League qualification and will aim to keep it on track to reach the group stage when it visits Bulgarian champion Ludogorets tonight holding a 2-0 lead from the first leg. .
(photo credit: DANNY MAROM)
Despite its 2-0 lead from the first leg, Hapoel Beersheba is taking nothing for granted as it aims to secure its progress to the Champions League playoffs on Wednesday night.
The two-time defending Israeli champion visits Bulgarian champion Ludogorets in the second leg of the third qualifying round, looking to move within touching distance of qualification for the Champions League group stage for the first time in club history while also guaranteeing an extended continental campaign.
Beersheba missed out on a place in the Champions groups by a single goal last season, losing to Celtic of Scotland 5-4 on aggregate in the final playoff round.
Hapoel, and the rest of the losers in the playoffs, received a place in the Europa groups and Beersheba went on to reach the round of 32.
While it knows it will be playing in European competition at least until December should it advance to the playoffs, Beersheba has no intention of settling for any consolation prize this time.
After comfortably overcoming Hungarian champion Honved in the second qualifying round, Hapoel moved up another gear in the first leg versus Ludogorets and further improvement on Wednesday should be enough to see it through.
The losers in the Champions third qualifying round receive a place in the Europa League playoffs.
“There is always pressure, especially against a team that can create so many chances,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar. “We still have a lot of work to do in order to complete our mission.
We registered an excellent result in the first leg, but we are focused on completing the job. There will be no excuses. We want to make sure we will be playing in the Europa group stage before we try and reach the Champions groups.”
Beersheba owed its win in the first leg at Turner Stadium to another inspired performance by Nigerian forward Anthony Nwakaeme.
With Ben Sahar, Elyaniv Barda, Niv Zrihen and Isaac Cuenca all out injured, Nwakaeme stepped up once more, netting the opener in the 19th minute and setting up substitute Michael Ohana’s goal in the 79th minute.
Nwakaeme had a lucrative move to China blocked by the club just before the start of the tie against Honved, but it has certainly not had any negative effect on his level of play.
If anything, Nwakaeme looks like he is playing with a chip on his shoulder, being directly involved in five of the team’s seven goals in the qualifiers to date, scoring three and providing two assists.
Beersheba was concerned it may have also lost midfielder Maor Melikson to an injury last week, but he has regained fitness and is set to start in Bulgaria.
New Czech striker Tomas Pekhart is also available to play after setting up a goal on his debut on Saturday, a 3-0 win over Hapoel Ashkelon in Beersheba’s Toto Cup group stage opener.
Pekhart is expected to begin the match on the bench, with Mohammad Ghadir to retain his place in the lineup after starting in the first leg last week, before also scoring two goals as a substitute in Saturday’s Toto action.
“It was important for me to score, it gives me a lot of confidence,” said Ghadir. “I missed half of last season due to injuries and I want to show everyone I deserve to play.”